Just An Online Minute... There Is No Cure For Brandhacking

Brandhackers Meetup, Legends, New York
March 13, 2009

Last night was my first ever Brandhackers Meetup. Actually, I'd have to say it's my first Meetup ever. I know there are a lot out there to choose from, too. There's the gerbil support network MeetUp, there's Julia Kaganskiy's Arts, Culture, and technology MeetUp, there is even a New York/New Jersey Pearl Jam Meetup - and to the members, none is more important than the other. Last night's NYC Brandhackers Speaker Series featured John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer for Young & Rubicam Group and author of "The Brand Bubble: the looming crisis in brand value and how to avoid it." Doing a little prelim recon on the location and on the guests and felt only a dash of trepidation when I looked at Legends over on 33rd and 5th. Why don't we get right into it!



Legends (or Legends 33?) is very old boy's club. The Web site does it justice - lots of glossy dark wood, flat screens, that amateur night Irish pub in semi-midtown flair -- it's really what the place looks like in real life. Standing outside puffing on lung cookie makers was a black-suited woman draped in floor-length fur. I popped inside and headed downstairs to the area reserved only for the Meetup. They had a great space; tons of room, tables and seats for everyone, a dedicated bar, flatscreens all over the joint -- all the good stuff. Setting up his laptop with the help of some spikey-haired fellow in a basketball jersey was John Gerzma, the featured speaker. The occasional blurts of song from the speakers told me he was going to have sound issues later, but hey, wait and see.

The first person I saw was the always-friendly Scott Hoffman, CMO for Lotame (he's on Twitter as @lotame as well as at @scottyrocksbig). He was jawing with Robb Hecht, the MeetUp organizer. I decided to drop my stuff at a table, which is where I met Sara Miller, Digital Sales Manager for I told her that I used to have a subscription to Shape, but it expired not for any fault of the mag, but because it was a constant reminder of how lazy I am. Sara's solution? is launching their new site (in May I think? Sara, correct me!). They should obviously have a launch party complete with treadmills that are hooked up to Twitter (a la Botanicalls) so I can cover it. Wandering around the room I discovered the goofy duo of Josh Shabtai, VP, Marketing for Vringo, and Stephen Baer, Managing Partner at The Game Agency. We hatched a good dozen new business ideas, one that I will hire Vince Shlomi, recently tarnished ShamWow pitchman, to pitch. I'm afraid to tell you before we patent it.

Over by my table, before Marshall Sponder, Web Analyst and Artist, plopped down with his juicy burger, and as Oz Sultan, Digital Strategist side, hugged me, I met Shaman D'Souza who is "in transition" -- AKA unemployed and hungry! Because she was so lovely and because I have been there, I'd like to take this opportunity to pimp her out, as they say... She has tons of consumer marketing experience with all the fun stuff that goes with it like event planning and being able to speak like a human to people. She's very outgoing and vivacious -- strikes me as business-fearless. Shoot me an email if you want her contact info. Moving on -- bullet time! Let's see what John Gerzema, AKA "Bubble Boy," had to say:

Power has shifted from the institution to the individual. I would go so far as to say the power has shifted to groups over the individual now, because it's all about that common thread -- that obtuse reference that a certain affinity group gets makes it exclusive, the tech group of early adopters who pride themselves on being the first to break [insert name of TechCrunch-promoted prototype or invitation-only beta release] first. Think mommy bloggers as a collective. Or exercise bloggers. Or food bloggers. It's a group with vocal authority. Uh oh, I just got groupthink chills.

Consumers don't just want a brand that is different; they want a brand that keeps being different. To accomplish this, Bubble suggests that brands embrace "energized differentiation," as I heard that! He too snorts at that ugly term himself (and is willing to pay top dollar for someone to rename it!), but it is what it is -- the ability for a brand to intrigue, pull you in, keep you loyal, but not bore you. To this I give a half yeah and a half meh. I mean, whatever happened to people using a certain follicle desolver because it's a family tradition. Where's that deep dug loyalty? Well, if you ask me (and you didn't), it's still there -- because in Bubble Boy's graph the brands high in energized differentiation are the same tried and true hardcore brands that I remember from Marketing 101: Nike, IBM, Coke, P&G... So really -- are things changing, or are we just labeling them differently?

"Death to the big idea!" says John. Why? The big idea is limiting. Once you recognize the big idea as THE BIG IDEA, then it's surrounded by constraints and your team is less encouraged to explore outside the barriers of the big idea. Uh oh, you better get the white out if you've slapped "Big Idea Guy" on your business card. Replace it with Mission Maker. Yup, John suggests instead that companies understand their mission. The mission is the huge inspired umbrella that all those other chunks fall out from under. Once the company is all hands on deck, all thrusters go on the mission, everything else that pours out into all touch points reeks of it! Brand clarity erupts, brand confusion dies, everyone buys your glow-in-the-dark belly-button covers, and you're sitting pretty on your stacked bundles. I 95% agree with this big mission, but it also sounds like the "brand mantra" of yore as well. But isn't that what innovation is all about? Taking something current and doing it one better, differently?

There's more, but I'll bet if I were John I'd say: "read the book!"

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